Moving animatedly about the room, the young man read on, his small audience captivated. "The chain he drew was clasped about his middle. It was long, and wound about him like a tail; and it was made of cash-boxes, keys, padlocks and heavy purses wrought in steel. His body was transparent; so that Scrooge, observing him, and looking through his waistcoat, could see the two buttons on his coat behind." The children sat up and snuggled against their mother, regaled by their father's engaging reading. As the story became more frightening and more exciting, they clasped onto their dolls and teddy bears to protect them from the ghosts to come. The room was warm and cosy, a play room with a Victorian doll's house and a roaring fire, echoing Christmases of old.
If you were to drift from that window, down to the ground floor and along to the next in this street of houses, you would find an altogether dourer affair. A much older man sat at his desk, alone in his study, rustling papers and scratching at records with an expensive but tired cartridge pen. He was listening to the radio as the music turned to carols. He leant over, switched it off and tutted to himself. Ashes now cold in the fireplace, he shivered and, feeling a draught, he went to the window to draw the curtains. Outside, a figure moved towards him and across the grass, up to the sash windows. A jolt of cold ran through him and he squinted at the figure. "It can't be," he said to himself, stuttering. He closed his eyes for a few seconds, but upon opening them he found nothing. Shaking away the memory, he went back to his desk and continued his work. His desk lamp, which was brass with a green glass shade, crackled and flickered. He traced the cord to the switch and pulled at the loose wire. "Bloody thing." It flicked off, plunging him into darkness.
The door handle began to turn, light streaming through the keyhole. "Christina? Is that you? The bloody lamp's died. Christina?" The door opened and a dark hooded figure entered, its face cast in shadow.
The figure spoke softly and evenly. "Liam."
"Who is that? No one calls me that anymore," William replied sternly, standing up. He stepped forward to catch a glimpse of the person's features. He saw blazing blue eyes and a moustache that curled round into sideburns. "Patrick?"
"None other. I know what you did to me, Liam."
"No. No." William stepped backwards and stumbled against his chair, which rolled away from him. He felt inexplicably cold and his heart raced beyond its limit. He collapsed to the floor.
"Tell me where you hid it, Liam."
"I... I..." he began, before taking his last breath.
"Three partners, Scribbs. All of whom have walked out on you because of your... eccentricities," explained Sullivan.
"They're not eccentricities; they're just my methods," shrugged Emma, slouching in her seat.
"DI Curtis said you left him stranded during a stakeout because you, I quote, 'Wandered off, having seen someone who looked a bit like DI Kate Ashurst'."
"Easy mistake to make."
"DI Cranford has told me you're consistently late and that you disregard proper procedure for obtaining search warrants."
"It's never been a problem before."
"You had someone to cover for you before. Not to mention you've gone home ill, claiming to be suffering from 'women's problems'."
"Hey, I can't help that," she pouted.
"Consistently, once a week and for the past four weeks, Scribbs? Coincidentally, always upon mention of paperwork?" He narrowed his eyes.
Emma wrinkled her nose and tried to think of a suitable reply.
"I think you do have a problem and it does involve a woman," he went on.
"It's not my fault Kate buggered off up to Scotland."
"You can't blame all your inadequacies on the absence of Ash. It's got to stop."
"I'm adjusting; it's a slow process."
"You've had five weeks."
"Very slow process."
"You're going to have to adapt, and fast. Is there anything I can do to aid the change?"
"Find me an inspector who'll spout rules, correct my spelling and tell me off about my posture?" she offered.
"We could send you to a deportment school, Scribbs, but I can't replace Ash."
"You're right. You can't." She mused to herself for a while. "Boss, remind me, how much notice do you need for a week's holiday?"
"We require a day for a day, a week for a week." He sat back and crossed his arms. "Which you already know."
"How's about no notice for six days?" bargained Emma, sitting forward.
"How about five days' notice for six days?" he replied.
"How's about one day's notice for five days?"
Sullivan sat forward, reflecting Emma's pose. "How about letting me know what it is you're planning?"
Emma crossed her arms and tried to snuggle up to the cold window. She watched raindrops racing down the other side of the glass.
"You alright, love? You look bored," said the young man who sat down beside her; he was wearing a baseball cap and a poorly-grown goatee.
"Yeah, I'm fine. Thanks."
"I knew you'd be a talker. I hate it when you're next to someone who just reads or something." Emma nodded in response. "So, where're you going?"
"Aberdeen, for work."
"At Christmas? You fookin' nutter." He laughed. "Ah, you're alright."
"What're you going up for?" Emma asked politely.
"I'm going to see my girlfriend."
"That's nice. Been together long?"
"Six months. Met on the internet."
"She does know what you look like, doesn't she?"
"Don't be daft; 'course she does," he replied.
Emma looked down at her scarf and played with the tassel ends. "I'm hoping to get together with someone while I'm away."
"Up there? Do you work with him?"
Emma swallowed nervously. "It's a she, actually."
"Alright! Shake my hand," he said enthusiastically, taking up her hand in his own. "Excellent, I like it. Good on you. Hey, she does know you're a bird, doesn't she?"
"'Course she does." Emma smiled to herself.
Stonehaven Police Station
Emma entered, weary after her long journey. She was wearing her long, thick, fake fur coat, soft fluffy boots, scarf, woolly hat and mittens.
"Bloody hell, sweetheart. It's Scotland, not Narnia," laughed a kind-faced, slightly stocky man in uniform. He stepped forward to introduce himself. "Superintendent Faraday. I assume you're Sergeant Scribbins."
"That's right." Emma shook his hand and then removed her hat, mittens and scarf, roughly running her hand through her hair to tidy it. "Nice to meet you."
"Well, welcome to the fold." Matthew Faraday had a short, soft white beard to match his greying hair. He pulled at a tuft on his chin as he looked around thoughtfully. "Callum, have you seen Kate?"
The officer, who was behind a desk, perked up and replied. "She's out looking at that body someone found."
Matthew tutted to himself and turned back to Emma. "Of course. When she gets back, I'll have to introduce you."
"Er..." Emma was about to speak when they were disturbed by the doors to the station blowing open, carrying with them a light flurry of snow.
Kate entered with Forbes, a young, plain-clothed officer. Brushing down her coat, she removed it and hung it up on a rack on the wall. "It wasn't a dead body at all - just a ghastly inflatable Santa. It had blown off the neighbour's roof and into the compost heap."
"Kate stabbed it the head with her pen; it was pretty much dead after that," added Forbes.
Kate walked directly past Emma and began lifting papers, clearly looking for something. "Have you seen my case notes on the Kinnell case? I need to interview the rest of the family of the -" she turned around to talk to the Superintendent and immediately spotted Emma. Mouth open, she blinked for a few seconds. "No, no, no, no, no." She took Emma roughly by the arm and began marching her out of the door. Emma looked back, seeking help from the other police officers.
"Kate, stop pestering the girl. She's working here, you mare," said Matthew.
Kate stopped in her tracks. "Working here?" she said to Emma, sternly, still gripping her arm painfully tightly.
"Secondment." Emma smiled at her widely but nervously. "Surprise," she uttered, weakly.
Matthew walked over to introduce them. "This here is Emma Scribbins. She's a Detective Sergeant from down south." He turned to Kate, who was looking as him like he was mad. He turned back to Emma and pointed at Kate. "And this is Kate Ashurst. She's a Detective too." Emma smiled back at him, trying not to laugh. He leant over to whisper in her ear. "Don't mind Kate. She can be a bit much sometimes. I should know - I'm her blimmin' father."
"My boss wanted me to build up an idea of other working practices and try to improve relations." On the last two words, Emma tried to raise her voice and catch Kate's attention.
"Right, hence the intradepartmental secondment," said Matthew.
"Inter," Kate corrected, without looking up from her paperwork.
"Listen to that... merciless. My own bairn as well. Next she'll be telling me how to blow eggs."
"Suck eggs," said Kate, turning a page.
Matthew leant forward to whisper to Emma. "I let her have that one. I find it pays to let her feel superior once in a while."
"It's Christmas, Emma. I wouldn't hear of it and neither would Kate," announced Matthew. "I won't take no for an answer."
"What's going on? What is it I'm party to, without being wholly aware of?" asked Kate, sitting down opposite Emma.
"I've asked Emma to come and stay with us. She was going to book into a B&B - can you believe it?"
"No, I can't." Kate crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes at Emma.
"So I said we wouldn't hear of it."
"I'm really grateful," Emma said, honestly.
"You bloody should be, Scribbs."
"You've got a nickname for her already, Kate?" asked Matthew. "Wait a mo' - Scribbs. I know that name. What town are you from again?"
"Oh, bloody hell - you know each other, don't you?" Matthew asked.
"We were -" Emma winced at the sharp pain inflicted by Kate's shoe upon contact with her ankle.
"Partners," said Kate.
"That's what I was going to say," mouthed Emma to Kate, rubbing her ankle.
Matthew Faraday's house
The stone-built house was nestled among other similarly-styled houses; it was a little way down from the local pub and the old converted train station post office. The town was close enough to the coast for the air to smell salty, and seagulls squawked noisily overhead. The house itself was snug and clean but there was still the taint of bachelorism, with which Emma was all too familiar. In terms of decoration it was very modest; a bit of foliage, such as clumps of ribboned holly and ivy, hung from various points along the walls. What made it feel like Christmas for Emma was the smell of the real pine tree, the blazing fireplace, and winter's ever early dusk. She wandered through to the spare bedroom, which was a quaint room with a carpet the colour of rolled oats. She sat down on the cosy double bed and let herself flop back on it.
After making a somewhat feeble attempt at unpacking, Emma made her way through to the dining room. There was a sound of cracking from the corner of the room; she turned to see Kate, who was standing by the side board and cracking nuts into a bowl, one after the other, with a look of great severity.
"You going to eat those?"
"Nope," Kate replied, continuing to release her anger on a collection of walnuts.
Emma winced. Suddenly, her plan was looking much harder than she had previously imagined.
"Soup all right?" asked Matthew, as Emma entered the kitchen.
"Yeah, great," she replied.
"If you can't boil it and blend it, I can't make it."
Emma smiled up at him. "Is Kate alright?"
"She's been... a bit... pathetic."
"Pathetic? In what sense?"
"Erm." Matthew thought for a moment, searching for a suitable paradigm. "Puppy in the rain."
"All forlorn and whatnot. What happened down there in Middleford? Did someone break her heart?" He suddenly looked very concerned.
"Actually, it's sort of the other way round."
There came a small knock at the door.
"Yes?" Kate called out from the comfort of her bed.
Emma entered, wearing pyjamas, and closed the door behind her. "Ash, I'm freezing." She hugged herself and shivered.
"Very well." Kate pulled back the covers. Emma rushed forward, assuming she was being invited into bed; instead, she found a furry hot water bottle being thrust in her direction.
"Oh. Thanks." Emma took it and began padding back to the door in a thick pair of fisherman socks.
"Where did you get those?"
"What? Oh, these," she said, looking down at her feet. "Your dad lent them to me."
"It doesn't take you long, does it, Scribbs?"
"To do what?"
"To work your way into people's hearts."
"They're just socks, Ash."
Stonehaven Police Station
"We used to have this tradition when the kids were wee. We'd come to Stonehaven for Christmas and stay with my family. The night before Christmas Eve, we'd all go to Dunnottar Castle for a walk. If anyone saw a shooting star, they'd be allowed to open two presents on Christmas Eve instead of one," explained Matthew. "Since their mother and I separated and I moved back here, it seemed too far to drag Kate and Tom, but we agreed that the kids would come and stay with me every Christmas. Lydia always preferred spending the time with her socialite friends, anyway. Kate's been coming here for Christmas ever since."
"I always wondered where she went. She never said much, only that it was a 'family thing'," said Emma.
"She keeps things close to her chest, does that one."
"Do you two still go to the castle on the eve eve?"
"No, not in a long time."
"Let's do it. Let's go tomorrow," Emma said, excitedly.
Kate approached and called Emma aside. "Will you stop talking to my father?" she whispered.
"Why? He's nice."
"You can help me with my investigation. Anything to stop you from getting in the way." Kate walked purposefully towards the mortuary corridor.
Stonehaven Police Station mortuary
"Extra Strong Mint?" asked Emma. Kate took one, popped it in her mouth and entered the mortuary. Emma followed suit.
"What was the cause of death?" asked Emma. Kate stood beside her, surveying the grey body of William Kinnell.
"Guess!" offered the cheery doctor, who had a sprig of mistletoe attached to his lapel.
"Guess?" asked Emma, confused.
"It's fine - go on," said Kate.
Emma perked up. "Um, well, no physical wounds - that I can see, anyway. He's not ancient but he's no spring chicken. Dunno. Heart failure?"
"Spot on." The doctor placed one finger on his nose and pointed at her with his free hand. "Got it in one. Someone give that girl a prize. Cardiac Arrhythmia leading to sudden heart failure. Plus I'd say he was scared to death."
"Really?" asked Emma, surprised at the conjecture.
"I'd be willing to stake my left kidney on it, despite that sort of thing being a bit of an urban legend. But hey, did you know that being scared is almost as good as a workout? He'd be fitter if he werenae dead."
"If he was scared to death, then there's no real culprit?"
"There was an assailant of sorts, though; he or she was in William Kinnell's study moments before he died," explained Kate.
"So there were witnesses?"
"Aaron Kinnell, William's son. He received a nasty surface wound to the head from the fleeing aggressor. He said he was thrown to one side and then he banged his head on the wall. The wife, Christina, also said that she heard some sort of argument."
"Still can't really press charges against whoever it was for being scary."
"That's beside the point. We've been asked to investigate because the insurance company won't pay out from the life policy until we've confirmed cause of death."
The back doors to the mortuary blew open, and two people pulled a trolley through and placed a fresh corpse alongside the body of William Kinnell. One of the lab technicians began writing out a tag for the toe. Emma peered over and read it.
"Um, Ash, I think your case just got bigger."
"What do you mean?" She leaned over and read the name: 'Christina Kinnell'.
Kate drove to the Kinnell house; Emma accompanied her. The windscreen wipers had to work hard to keep the snow clear.
"You going to give me the low-down on the case, then?" asked Emma.
"Very well." Kate began to reel off the details. "William Kinnell, co-owner of 'Chambers, Kinnell and Barker', a very successful law firm. Wife, Christina, retired solicitor. Two daughters, Eileen and Mary, a vicar and an artist, respectively. One son, Aaron, currently studying law at Aberdeen University."
"Mummy and Daddy's golden boy, no doubt."
"Quite, except he's an orphan now."
"Poor guy. What did the wife say about the night William died?" asked Emma.
"When I interviewed her, she said that all the downstairs lights had gone, apart from the one in the hallway, which is on a different circuit. She was in the next room and she claims she heard a man call her husband 'Liam'."
"Why is that important?"
"Only his business partner Patrick Chambers called him that."
"Right, have you interviewed Patrick?"
"He died, under a veil of mystery, twelve years ago."
"Oh, so maybe he faked his own death."
"Nope, I checked. They have footage of him falling in front of the train."
"Ow." Emma physically cringed. "Not him, then. Unless it was his ghost, Christmas Carol stylee."
Kinnell family house
To the right of the entrance hallway, a white jagged outline of tape represented the area where Christina has been found by her daughter, Mary. With no sign of the murder weapon there were few clues to look for.
"So if William was done in by Patrick Chambers aka Jacob Marley, then Christina must've been murdered by The Ghost of Christmas Present?" offered Emma, speaking in a spooky voice. She peered into all the open rooms, her feet shuffling about in protective paper covers, which made her shoes look like they were wearing shower caps.
"Past," said Kate as she looked for evidence of forced entry.
"The Ghost of Christmas Past is the first. And don't even think about saying 'God bless us, every one' or I shall force you to sit in the car."
"Humbug," Emma muttered under her breath. With latex-gloved hands she examined the contents of Christina's handbag by pouring it onto the desk. She picked up a small, colourful business card which claimed 'Contact with the dead. Discreet service.' She transferred everything to an evidence bag and watched Kate, who was carefully running her fingers along the edge of the study's sash window.
"It's been jimmied open, so a definite forced entry. It wasn't like this when I visited yesterday."
Out in the hallway, Kate suddenly noticed something amiss. She snapped her fingers. "The grandfather clock."
Stonehaven Police Station
"How do you take your coffee, Emma?" asked a female constable.
Emma opened her mouth but the answers came from Kate.
"Milk, two sugars."
"Er, right," said the constable, walking off.
"I know you don't want me to get pally with anyone but this is getting a bit much," said Emma.
An officer entered with a note for Kate.
"What's that about?" Emma leant forward to read, inadvertently giving Kate a direct view down her cleavage.
Kate coughed and moved away. "We've had a tip-off. A conman, who goes by the name of Paul Cantanzo, has been targeting bereaved family members, tricking them into revealing the locations of their more valuable possessions. It seems he may have been the one who broke into the Kinnell's house."
"He doesn't pretend to be a medium, does he?"
"How did you know?"
"Sixth sense." Emma smiled.
Stonehaven Police Station
Kate and Emma approached the interview room from different ends of the corridor.
"Any luck with getting hold of Kinnell's business partner?" asked Kate.
"They've said he's not in but they'll page him saying we want an interview," replied Emma.
"Right, let's have a word with Mary." Kate opened the door. Mary Kinnell sat with her solicitor, looking nervous. "So, Miss -"
A bleeping noise came from the solicitor's pocket; he apologised as he checked his pager. "Just another message asking me to come here. Do continue."
Kate and Emma looked at each other. "I think you'd better read that again... Mr Geoffrey Barker, is it?"
He re-read the page. "Oh, I see."
"You're next up," Emma said to him.
"As I was saying, Miss Kinnell. You were staying with your parents at the times of their deaths," said Kate.
Mary gulped and held a tissue to her to her nose as she snivelled. "I've just been through a separation and I'm not selling enough to live alone."
"You'll be able to afford it now," stated Emma.
"The upkeep of that house alone is double what I earn."
"But when your father's life insurance policy money comes through, you, Aaron and Eileen will be very well off," said Kate.
"Life insurance?" Mary looked up, confused. She turned to Geoffrey, who shrugged.
"Are you saying you were unaware of the policy, Mary?" asked Emma.
"No. I mean, yes, I was unaware."
"Did you see or hear anything last night?"
Mary blew her nose noisily. "Nothing." She began crying uncontrollably and Geoffrey comforted her.
Emma opened the interview room door and summoned an officer. "Can you take her somewhere and get her a drink, please?"
Mary left the room and Kate announced the change to the tape recording. "So, Mr Barker," she continued. "Can you inform us of your whereabouts on the last two nights?"
"Oh, really, come on. You don't honestly think..." he began.
"A larger share in the business; that's got to be tempting," said Emma.
"I was unaware that William's death was even under investigation."
"Not as such, but Christina's is," Kate stated.
"Well, I was away in London last night; you can check with the hotel, my credit card company, anything you like."
"What first name did you use to address Mr Kinnell?" asked Emma, curious.
"Well, William of course. Will occasionally."
"Were you acquainted with Patrick Chambers?"
"Before my time. We retained his name in the company title for reputation only."
Kate took a piece of carrot from the chopping board and started to nibble on it.
"Dad -" she began, but was distracted when Emma started giggling. "Excuse me for a moment." She led Emma off into another room. "What is it now?"
"You call your dad 'Dad'."
"And this amuses you why?"
"It just sounds so wrong."
"What do you expect me to call him? Pater?"
"Yeah," nodded Emma, still laughing.
Kate rolled her eyes.
Emma knocked and strolled in. The room was in Kate's normal minimalist style, apart from a single ragdoll, which sat on a painted cast iron fireplace mantle. It had had its eyes sewn in place several times and the dress was ripped, with locks of woollen hair cut from its head.
"This yours?" Emma asked. Kate nodded. "I would've expected all your toys to be pristine."
"Not for lack of trying. I happened to have a very evil little brother."
"I really need to meet him some time."
"Somehow I don't think so." Kate shook her head.
"What exactly is the problem, Ash? Do you think I'm going to embarrass you in front of him?"
"You'd fancy him and it would be weird."
"I haven't looked twice at anyone else since you kissed me."
"Shh. Keep it down."
"I've never worked this hard at being with someone."
"Am I supposed to be impressed by that?"
"Yes! You know what I'm like; I don't put effort into relationships."
Kate pressed her temple. "Why did you have to come here?"
"I told you I'd miss you and I do. I have."
"You know it couldn't work between us."
"Let's face it, you're already the longest relationship I've been in and we've only kissed, what, twice."
"You can't include friendship time."
"Who says? The Penguin Book of Loves and Lovers?" joked Emma.
"I say." Kate pointed at herself.
They approached the castle as the sun was setting and the moon was taking its place as the main provider of light for the area. The sound of waves breaking against the base of the cliff below was dramatic yet calming. Boundary conditions of sea and shore; standing on one side, looking out at the other. Frost made the stone walkway appear to be coated in diamond dust, and the grass was crisp underfoot.
"Be careful," Kate called out to her father as he wandered off.
"Aye, I will be," he called back.
"He always does this," she said to Emma.
"Look, a shooting star." Emma pointed skywards.
"Nope, that's a stationary star with clouds moving either side of it."
"Good try, though."
"Yes, Scribbs. Nice try."
"It's a nice night. Very romantic... the moon, the stars, the sea."
"The inability to feel the tips of my fingers despite my gloves," added Kate.
"Here." Emma pulled off all four of their gloves and tucked them under one arm. She began briskly rubbing Kate's bare hands between her own. The sensation was pleasant, if a little sore. Every so often Emma would breathe hot air onto their hands to warm them.
"I feel like a twillup," said Kate.
"There's no one here." Emma passed Kate her gloves. "All done."
"So, when do you go back to Middleford?" asked Kate.
Emma was disappointed at the question. "I've been given a week."
"You sound like you've been set a challenge."
'Feels like it,' thought Emma. "I'm here for you - you know that. I suppose you'd rather I hadn't come?" she asked, hoping to receive an answer in the negative.
Kate was silent.
"Y'know, Ash, I've got three rules," said Emma, angrily.
"You have rules?"
Emma held a thumb up. "One. Don't kiss a girl and then bugger off to Scotland without so much as a by-your-leave."
"I didn't need your permission to go," interrupted Kate.
Emma continued, this time extending her forefinger. "Two. If someone turns up after having travelled five hundred miles, don't try to send them packing."
"These are a bit specific. Not very good for general use."
"And three..." She could not think of a third. "You've put me off now." She let her hand flop down. "Point is, you can't just kiss me like that and then go."
"I just... I had to know." Kate stormed off.
"What? Had to know what?" Emma chased after her.
"Whether I truly have feelings for you."
"And you don't?" Emma asked nervously and slowed her pace a little.
Kate stopped abruptly and turned to face Emma, who almost crashed into her. "If I didn't, then I could have stayed."
The sound of Slade's Noddy Holder screaming 'It's Christmas!' from the radio alarm clock woke Emma from her deep sleep. She quickly snoozed the alarm, snuggled up and watched snow falling lazily outside the window. There came a knock at the door and Matthew called through.
"Morning," Emma called back, rubbing at her eyes.
"Yep." She sat up and pulled the covers around her.
Matthew came in carrying three mugs of tea in one hand; he placed one down by Emma's bedside. "I've put a dram of whiskey in there as Kate tells me you're a bit like me."
"Trouble getting up in the mornings," he explained.
Emma nodded in appreciation of her sympathiser.
"What do we know about conmen?" Kate was faced with blank stares. She sighed. "Scribbs?"
Emma, who had been watching Kate pace about the room, awoke from her reverie. "Mm?"
"They're clever and quick," Emma replied.
"They can talk themselves out of any situation."
"They're very slippery customers when it comes to police investigations."
"Remind me, again, why you two aren't working together anymore?" asked Callum as he folded back the corner of his newspaper to look at them.
"So I want a full background check on Paul Cantanzo. Any dodgy dealings, previous convictions, anything," Kate continued.
"We'll get right onto that, Kate." They shuffled out to get on with their work, leaving Kate and Emma alone.
"I'm not used to people calling you by your real name. It's weirding me out," said Emma. As she reached over the desk, the fabric of her tight trousers stretched across her neat bottom.
Kate could not help but stare. 'This wasn't such a problem before I kissed her,'' thought Kate. She too clicked out of her reverie and found herself shouting at Emma. "Jesus Christ, you are driving me absolutely crazy with your... ways." She held her forehead and, feeling slightly embarrassed at her outburst, exited the room, leaving a stunned Emma wondering exactly what it was that she did.
"I didnae kill no one," protested Paul.
"So you did kill someone?" suggested Kate. "That is, if you did not kill no one person, then you did kill one or more?"
"What's she talking about?" Paul looked up to Emma.
"Did you kill Christina Kinnell, Paul?" asked Emma.
"Then what happened?"
"I'll admit that we met. She came to see me, to buy my services."
"When was this?" asked Kate.
"The twenty-first. She had an appointment for ten in the morning."
"The day after her husband's death," noted Emma, "and the morning of her own."
"She played the grieving widow very well."
"What do you mean 'played'?" asked Kate.
"She didnae mean it; it was written all over her face. She wasn't being herself. All those fake tears. Constantly had a hanky in front of her face - now that's what I call pure body language for lying. Can I go now?"
"Not this time, Paul. We traced the auction house that sells on your stolen goods. They're bringing in the grandfather clock which you and your associates took from the Kinnells' house."
"Just one other question: how is it that you trick people into telling you where they keep their valuables?" asked Emma, interested.
"Ah, now that would be telling," he replied.
Emma strolled into the room to find a group of officers, including Kate. "Is that it then?" Emma asked. "Not very spectacular; my Great Auntie Millie has one of those." She pointed at the grandfather clock.
"We had to claim it back from the auction house. Someone had just bid two thousand pounds on it," explained one of the officers.
"Really? Wow. I need to call Auntie Millie. I hope she hasn't given it to the rag and bone man." Emma approached the clock to take a closer look. "Has anyone taken a look in the false bottom?" she asked, excitedly.
"Scribbs, if that thing had a false bottom, I'm sure the valuers would have noticed it," said Kate, crossing her arms doubtfully.
"I'll show you." Emma put on protective gloves, opened the door and crouched down. She reached in and began searching blindly. "I used to store my best spare toys in Millie's false bottom." She closed one eye and bit her bottom lip. The clock creaked and Kate cringed, clenching her teeth, expecting a subsequent crack in the antique wood. There came only a small 'pop' as Emma pulled open a panel. "Aha!"
"Anything inside?" Kate, suddenly interested, crouched down beside Emma and urged her onwards.
Emma tapped something metal. "Yep." With a sudden wrench she pulled the object free. It was an old tin fudge box: depicted on it were children's happy faces, marred by rust and dust. She handed it over to one of her colleagues.
The young officers prised open the tin to reveal bundles of paperwork, including bonds and shares. "Wow, now there's a real motive for murder. This lot is worth a fortune," said Callum.
Before standing up to dust herself down, Emma took another look inside the clock. She suddenly squinted upon noticing something on the brass-finished weight that hung to the left of the pendulum. Grasping it at the top, she unhooked it and carried it carefully over to a table. "Does this look like blood to anyone else?" she asked, pointing at a red smear on the lower left of the heavy rod.
"I think you just found the murder weapon," said Callum, impressed.
"That was stupendous. Emma, I could kiss you," Forbes announced graciously.
Emma looked excessively pleased with herself and, for once, found herself blushing slightly.
Kate, on the other hand, began to look a little maniacal; she appeared to be thinking intensely. "May I have a word with my DS, outside?" She did not wait for an answer, just caught Emma by the elbow and swiftly dragged her into the corridor, then out through a fire escape door.
"You haven't called me your DS in ages," commented Emma.
"Slip of the tongue." Kate, still holding Emma by the arm, led her to a secluded area at the rear of the station.
"Ash, it's freezing. Can I get my -" Emma's words were stopped by Kate's lips on hers. The stone wall came fast against her back. Kate's kisses were almost ferocious, if not ravenous. Emma slid her hand up from Kate's waist to her breast, only to have it batted away and the kiss halted. Leaving Emma standing, breathless, Kate straightened her clothes and re-entered the building without her DS. Emma gathered herself together, pushed off the wall and attempted to walk with wobbly knees. "What do I get if I solve the entire case?" she wondered out loud.
As she re-entered the offices, Emma shook her head. Kate was sitting quietly at her desk. Upon seeing Emma she raised a finger and said, "Don't." She did not want to be asked about their impromptu kiss.
Emma sighed, still feeling somewhat floaty. "Fine." She was getting used to Kate acting rashly and then giving her the silent treatment. With thoughts of finishing the case, Emma looked to her work. "Do you think that Paul or one of his mates did it, then?"
"It certainly fits." Kate relaxed, comfortable talking about the investigation. "They broke in and Christina discovered them, so they took drastic action, reaching for the first heavy object to hand, which happened to be part of the clock they were stealing."
"Bit stupid of them not to clean the weight before the sale."
"Mm, yes," agreed Kate.
"I've not met the second sister yet; shall we have a word?"
"To the church?"
"To the church," Emma concurred.
St. Luke's Church
They entered through the heavy gothic doors and stepped into the darkened area at the rear. Large candles on simple metal stands lit the pews at the front. Incense lanterns hung from the rafters, flooding the painted ceiling with ethereal light. Without a word of notice, the practising choir stuck into song and formed a beautiful harmony. Emma felt Kate's hand brush against hers and grab onto her wrist. She looked down.
"Sorry - I was a little overwhelmed," said Kate, releasing her grip.
"That's not like you."
"Really, Scribbs," she said, affronted. "You make me out to be a cold-hearted, hardened bitch."
"Only in the best possible sense," said Emma, as she watched Kate pacing off in the direction of the vestry.
Eileen busied herself, buttoning up her robe and smoothing her stole across her shoulders.
"If you think I killed my own mother, then may God help you - what will be next?" remarked Eileen, clearly offended.
"We just asked where you were that night, Reverend," said Emma.
"Very well. I performed an evening service, and then I was at home with my husband."
"Can you think of anyone who would want to kill your mother?"
"My father, yes… my mother, no."
Kate and Emma looked at each other. "Who would have wanted to harm your father?" asked Kate.
"William Kinnell was a cruel, miserly man. My only hope is that he was repentant before he breathed his last. Did you know he was prime suspect in the Patrick Chambers case before a verdict of suicide was reached?"
Kate and Emma left the church and walked through the grounds. Emma pulled her scarf further around her and tucked it into her coat. "If someone had intended to scare the bejesus out of William, appearing as the ghost of someone he killed would've done the trick."
"But to what end?" asked Kate. She received a call on her mobile phone and related the news to Emma. "Turns out Aaron dropped out of university some weeks ago."
"Now that would've definitely upset Daddy."
Matthew's living room
Kate rummaged around in the selection tin for her favourite sweet. Unable to find it, she took two of her second favourites and untwizzled the wrappers. Emma noted that Matthew did exactly the same thing.
"This area's a bit religious, isn't it?" Emma looked up to Kate from behind the newspaper she was reading. "Your local paper's nearly all church adverts," she said, frowning.
Kate bent over to look at the front of the paper. "You're reading the Evangelical Times."
"Oh yeah," said Emma, glancing up to the top left hand corner. "So I am." She read on, regardless.
"Katey, would you mind sewing this for me? The seam's all come adrift," said Matthew.
Kate went to take the shirt from his hands but Emma got there first. "I'll do that. Least I can do."
"Oh, thanks Emma." He left them alone. Emma settled back in the armchair closest to the fire, while Kate sat on the floor, knees together, legs to one side.
"Sewing?" remarked Kate, with an air of doubt in her voice.
"If there's one thing the Scribbinses can do, it's sew," said Emma, clearly proud of her heritage.
"You're kidding." Kate threw another log onto the fire and watched the glowing embers slump down into the grate.
"Nope. We're very good with our hands." Emma put down the sewing and waved her fingers in the air.
Kate raised her eyebrows, then resumed staring at the flames. "Well, one household talent is better than none," she commented. Emma did not take offence because she knew Kate was perfectly right. Kate picked up a collection of laboratory notes and began reading through them.
"It's Christmas Eve, Ash. Give yourself a break." Sticking the tip of her tongue out and closing one eye, Emma threaded the needle.
"There was a blood stain in the study and I just can't work out where or whom it came from."
"Maybe the person who scared William," offered Emma. "They might've had a tussle." She looked up and could not help but notice how beautiful Kate looked in the light of the roaring fire. Her hair, unpinned, was resting softly on her shoulders, her green eyes glinting, and her cheeks turning perfectly rosy.
Kate brought her hand to her right cheek, which was blazingly warm. "This says that fibres from the cloak, which was found discarded in the grounds, were also discovered in the grandfather clock."
"So they stored the cloak in the clock until they were ready to give William a fright?"
"Mm," said Kate, half listening and half reading. "Why do you think Christina wasn't sorry about her husband's death?"
"Paul might've been lying about the false tears. That, or she was the one who killed William."
Kate looked over at Emma, who was deep in concentration, hunched over, paying close attention to the detail of her sewing. Kate could not help but notice how sweet she looked.
Suddenly Emma sat up. "Well, that's it, all done. Want to see?"
Kate raised herself up onto her knees and looked down at Emma's handiwork. "Remarkably good."
Kate moved to pick up the shirt from Emma's lap. "Oh!" She covered her mouth.
"What?" Emma heard Kate snigger. "It's not wonky, is it?"
Kate bit the inside of her cheek but was unable to contain herself. She pressed at her eye and laughed noiselessly, her body shaking slightly. "Stand up."
Emma did so, frowning. The shirt clung to her thigh, sewn perfectly into the denim of her jeans. "Oh no!" She looked down at Kate and was faced with wide, happy eyes.
"Nevertheless, the sewing is still impeccable," said Kate, honestly.
They both burst into giggles.
Emma had gone to her room to change her trousers and unpick the stitching of her impeccable sewing, leaving Kate alone with her thoughts. Kate balanced a gold chocolate coin on the top of her thumb and flipped it. 'Heads or tails?'
"What're you doing?" asked Matthew as he entered the room.
Kate fumbled the catch and the coin landed with a pop and a sizzle in the open fireplace grate. "Buck and follocks," she cursed under her breath, watching the foil tarnish and the chocolate bubble. She sat down in the armchair, picked up a book and began flicking through the pages. "What do you think of Emma?" she asked, trying to make the question sound as casual as possible.
"If you're seeking approval, Kate, you're not going to get it from me."
She looked up nervously. "What do you mean?"
"The only person you should be looking for approval from is yourself."
"But if you were going to give an opinion?" she probed.
"Well, you make a great team. Emma balances you out. You've given up something a bit special there, or so it seems to me. If you want someone to tell you what to do in life, then call your mother. Don't ask me."
Kate sat forward and gazed into the fire, resting her fist on her cheek.
Kate peeked into Emma's bedroom from behind the door.
"Dad's been called out to a case. He'll be gone most of the night."
"Come in a second." Emma was sitting on the bed, deep in thought. She stood up to meet Kate. "Can I be frank?"
"We both know you're not a prude."
"So to speak, no, I'm not."
"And we've talked about sex before."
"So why won't you have sex with me?" asked Emma candidly.
"Gah. There are nicer ways to ask these things."
"Well? You've not been responding to subtle hints… or major hints, come to think of it."
"Over the years you've been a lot more promiscuous than I have."
"I'm hardly Mata Hari," Emma protested.
"You've been with a fair few partners."
"So? Out of all the blokes I've been out with, I would say round about none of them has been half-decent."
"And I have no wish to join your long list of crap boyfriends." Kate raised her hands, as if her reasoning should be plainly obvious.
"You wouldn't. You'd be top of the list of cr-"
"Careful." Kate pointed at Emma. "Don't insult me before I've even agreed to anything."
"I mean, if we're going to enter into any kind of actual relationship, there's a lot that needs to be considered..."
"Ash," said Emma, attempting to interrupt.
"Psychological issues, physiological..." Kate continued, unabated.
"Ash," persisted Emma, this time more loudly.
"I really shouldn't have kissed you at the park. It created far too much expectation..."
"Ash!" Emma exclaimed again, now laughing.
Kate looked a little stunned as Emma plunged forward, cupping her cheeks in her hands, locking her into a tender kiss. "But -" Kate found herself saying as she pulled back.
"I can stop any time you want," Emma said, before placing her lips on Kate's once again.
Kate's throat gave out a small, involuntary moan as she felt Emma's tongue press lightly against her own. "Stop," she said quietly as Emma moved to kiss her neck.
"Stop?" asked Emma, breathily, as she nuzzled into Kate's ear.
Kate frowned and bit her lip. "Yes." Her eyelids fluttered shut as Emma pushed her hand down her side and then along the small of her back, underneath the hem of her shirt.
"Sure?" Emma pushed Kate back onto the bed and roughly kissed her throat, her chin, and then her mouth.
"Definitely?" asked Emma, trailing a finger down Kate's neck, undoing her top button.
"Definitely." Kate ran her hands underneath Emma's top, towards her shoulders, and pulled her closer. She whispered into Emma's ear. "Most definitely." The words were clear and precise, their meaning now lost; she might as well have been saying "Don't stop". She began kissing Emma's neck, causing her lover to exhale deeply. Kate's pelvis seemed to move upwards, into the space between them, searching for pressure. Emma could feel Kate's thick silver rings roll past each other as, in turn, they moved smoothly over her hip and under the waistband of her trousers. Rolling over, Kate, her weight now bearing down upon Emma, began using her right thumb to massage Emma's jutting pelvic bone. With gasps and moans muffled by kisses, a whole new level of intimacy between them, they relaxed into each other's bodies.
The sound of Slade's Noddy Holder screaming 'It's Christmas!' from the radio alarm clock woke Emma from her deep sleep. She quickly snoozed the alarm, snuggled up and watched snow falling lazily outside the window. There came a knock at the door. 'Deja vu?' she thought. Suddenly remembering the previous evening's events, she wondered if it had all been a dream.
"Morning?" she called out. There was a hint of a question there; she actually wanted to know who was outside the door.
"Yes, it is. Are you decent?" asked Kate.
"Does it matter?" Emma responded, still a little unsure whether or not she had spent the night with Kate. After all, why would she be knocking on the door instead of being in bed, with her? Emma turned over onto her front and cuddled a pillow.
Kate walked into the room wearing a dressing gown. She placed a cup of coffee down on the bedside table. "Morning," she said softly.
"So you're talking to me, then?"
Kate sat down on the edge of the bed and pushed a lock of Emma's soft blonde hair behind her ear so that she could see her eyes. Tracing patterns on her back, she leaned over and planted a soft kiss on Emma's right shoulder. "I've put some clothes on the radiator for you."
She began to stand up but Emma pulled her back. "Why weren't you here when I woke up?"
"I wanted to check if Dad was back. I didn't particularly want him to find us in bed together."
"He's not an ogre, you know. On the other hand, if it was your mum's house, I'd be jumping out the window right now."
"I'll make us some breakfast." Kate smiled and left Emma alone.
Emma quickly showered and snuggled her way into the clothes Kate had left out for her. She padded through to the kitchen in her socks. Leaning against the door frame, she watched Kate cooking. Kate too was now dressed and had her hair up in a ponytail, which was bobbing about as she flitted back and forth. When Kate stopped to slice a tomato, Emma took her chance to approach quietly. She moved to stand behind her and slid her hands around to her front, clasping them together on Kate's stomach. Kate sucked juice away from her thumb and smiled as she felt Emma's warm, minty breath on her neck.
"I'll lay the table," said Emma, feeling the need to be remotely useful. Kate tipped her head back and turned slightly, receiving a light kiss. Emma tugged her around and Kate yielded to the embrace, placing her arms over Emma's shoulders, holding her fingers outstretched. Emma clung onto Kate so tightly that she thought she might break. The smell and sizzle of burning drew them from each other.
"You need to stop distracting me like this," Kate scolded Emma.
"Do you mind if I call my family?" Emma pointed at the telephone.
"Go ahead," said Kate, who was grimacing at the burnt mess.
Emma went to grab the receiver. "Did you know there was a message?"
"I hadn't noticed. Play it."
Emma pressed a button and the machine buzzed to life. The voice of a woman spoke. "This is a message for the daughter of Matthew Faraday. He's been brought into the hospital..."
"I'm sorry, family only," said the nurse, stopping Emma in her tracks.
"I'm her partner," said Emma, pointing at Kate, who was approaching Matthew's bedside.
"In what sense?"
Emma shrugged. "Every sense."
"Nevertheless, I -" the nurse continued. Emma flashed her police badge. "Very well."
"I'm fine, I'm fine. Stop fussing. I told them not to bother you. It was just a twinge. They're keeping an eye on me, that's all," said Matthew, weakly.
"I was worried," said Kate.
"Have you two made it up? You're both positively glowing," he commented as Emma approached.
They blushed and looked at each other. Kate nodded to her father.
"Katey, can you get me a drink?" asked Matthew. Kate squeezed his hand and strolled off. He smiled, and when she was out of sight, he leant over to catch Emma's attention. "Emma, for the love of God, will you take Kate back to Middleford with you? She's driving me out of my tiny mind with her moods. It's like having a teenager about the place again, only with more nagging. She makes me clean the houseproperly. It's not right for an old bachelor like me. I love the girl with all my heart but it's bloody hard to be with her every day."
"It's a knack," admitted Emma.
"Plus... I want to ask Fiona to move in with me."
"My girlfriend. Kate doesn't know and I don't want her to find out. That's where I was last night and let's say we got a bit carried away. That's when my heart gave out."
"Oh." Emma stifled a small giggle. "Right."
"Shh. She's coming back."
"They really shouldn't send you out on calls at night. It's not right," said Kate as she placed the cup by his bedside.
"You're quite right; I'll have a word at work after Christmas." He winked slyly at Emma.
Matthew's living room
"So it's just us today, then?" asked Emma as she knelt by the fire and built a stack of newspaper and kindling. As she rose and wandered off to find matches, Kate knelt down and re-arranged the scraps of wood and paper until she was happy them. Emma joined her, knocking her shoulder against Kate's as she sat on the floor. Kate struck a match; it flared on her first try. She lit the fire along its base, then cast the match into the grate.
"About last night..." Emma started. She paused, expecting to be stopped by Kate changing the subject.
"Last night was incredible, but..."
'Ah, here we go,' thought Emma, leaning back with her hands flat on the floor.
"Under no circumstances am I to be your one night stand. Is that understood?"
Emma looked a little astonished, then nodded enthusiastically.
"We'll have to decide on no-go topics of conversation if we're to be a couple, and it has to be an exclusive relationship. I don't care how many offers you get."
Emma nodded again, grinning like a fool.
"I think you've proved yourself to be a worthy partner."
"You're so romantic, Ash," Emma said jokily as she kissed the tip of Kate's nose. "I've got something for you." She turned to rummage around under the tree.
"You're getting pine needles everywhere," exclaimed Kate.
"Here we go," Emma announced, passing back an ineptly-wrapped present.
"I didn't get you anything," Kate said, as she watching Emma trying to extract herself from under the tree without getting prickled.
"All I want for Christmas… is you," said Emma distractedly, as she shook needles from her sleeve.
"I'll pretend you didn't say that," said Kate. "Actually, there is something you can have; see if you can find the one which says: 'To Kate from Auntie Phyllis'."
Emma extracted another poorly-wrapped gift and sat back down by the fire. "For me?"
"It is now. Besides, she gets me the same thing every year."
Emma quickly pulled off the paper to reveal a pair of pink, soft cotton bed socks. "Aww, they're brilliant."
"They're just socks, Scribbs."
Emma raised herself up onto her knees and watched keenly as Kate began to unravel her gift. The ragdoll, which Kate had shown Emma two days previously, flopped out of the wrapping.
"I repaired her," Emma said proudly.
"I can see that." Kate affectionately tidied the doll's woollen hair with her thumbs. She smiled genuinely. "When did you find the time?"
"When you told me you had feelings for me it scared me, but at the same time, it was more exciting than waiting for Santa when I was little. I couldn't sleep knowing you were in the next room," explained Emma.
Kate lunged forward, knocking Emma onto her back. She lay on top of her and they kissed passionately in front of the now blazing fire. Emma's hands gripped onto Kate's bottom. The clock on the mantle struck ten. Without notice, Kate suddenly raised herself up and knitted her brow. "Christina Kinnell couldn't have been with Paul the swindler... because I was interviewing her at the time. How could I have forgotten?"
"Nice to know you're still thinking about the case when you're getting hot and heavy with me," Emma said sarcastically. "I can see what your previous boyfriends were complaining about."
They sat up.
"Unless he was lying, or perhaps he had the time wrong." Kate rubbed at her temple.
Emma smiled into Kate's warm cheek as she put her arms around her waist. "Christina had his business card in her bag," reasoned Emma.
"Come on." Kate stood up and took Emma by the hand. "Let's close this case."
Kinnell family house
Kate and Emma had gathered Geoffrey Barker, Paul Cantanzo and the remaining Kinnell family members in William's study, so as to resolve the case once and for all.
"It's just like how they wrap it up in Poirot," whispered Emma to Kate, who was standing in the middle of the room, ready to address everyone.
"Right. Let's get on." Kate looked over at the three siblings. "Firstly, we found this -" Kate held something in her hand "- in your mother's handbag."
"Aha, his calling card!" exclaimed Mary, pointing at Paul.
Paul looked confusedly at what Kate was holding. "But this is your calling card."
"You're quite right - silly me," said Kate. "The real card is at the lab, being checked for prints."
"How did you know what it would be, Mary?" asked Emma.
"I... it's obvious. It's small and... and..."
"Of course, what I don't understand is why the card would be in Christina's handbag. After all, she never went to see Paul," said Kate.
Mary looked confused. "I really don't take your meaning."
"Your mother was never there… you were."
"Ludicrous, but actually true," added Emma.
"You share enough of the same features. With make-up, a dark head scarf and spare pair of spectacles, the illusion would be complete. What happened, Mary?" asked Kate.
"Aaron said…" Mary looked at Aaron, who was willing her not to talk. "He said our mother must pay, that I was to dress like Mother and visit the medium." She pointed at Paul. "I was to confess, confess to the murder of my father, in the guise of my mother, so that they would have no choice but to report me... her. Do you understand? But... but I never got the chance to confess on her behalf. That man... that man there," she raised her finger to Paul again. "He put me in some sort of trance and I don't remember anything."
Everyone turned to look at Paul. "Hey, don't look at me. Honey, sweetheart…" he said to Kate and Emma in turn. "You can't hypnotise someone unless they're willing."
"So that's how you get people to reveal their hidden treasures." Emma looked over to Mary, who had her head in her hands. "Sorry, Mary, you were saying?"
"That night, I heard a noise in the hallway and I went downstairs. Mother was there. She said she was afraid, that she was keeping a vigil, a watch for the ghost of her true love."
"Your father?" asked Kate.
"No. The ghost of Patrick Chambers, Aaron's real father. She said that he had come back, that she'd heard him accuse my father of murder and asked him to return the tin box, which my father stole all those years ago."
"How did you know about the box?" asked Emma.
"I loved my father very much, Sergeant. I think I was the only one in our family who did love him. He was my closest confidante, and I his. We spoke of everything," Mary explained. "That night, when my mother kept watch, I accused her of murdering Father. She protested and I lost myself. I took the weight from the clock and struck her." Her eyes became bright as she continued: "I avenged my father's death, just as she avenged Patrick's."
"So your father did kill Patrick?"
"Yes," Mary replied.
"What happened after you struck your mother?" asked Kate.
"I heard a noise coming from the study, so I replaced the weight and ran upstairs. When I came back down, the clock was gone."
"And what do you have to say about this, Aaron?"
"Our mother had to pay," he reiterated, crossing his arms.
"How is the wound on your head?" asked Emma.
"Can you just stand over here for me?" asked Kate. She guided Aaron over to an area near a bookcase. "Hm," she said. "Is this where you were when you hit your head?"
"No. I told you before - I was in the hallway."
"But that's not true, is it? Because there is a blood stain, of your type, here." She pointed to the bookcase, at a point about six feet from the floor. "At our first interview, before your mother died, you told me you had visited William on the day he died because you, I quote" - she read from her notebook - "'wanted nothing more to do with the business of law.' Is that right?" She stepped around him.
"But that wasn't the end of it, was it? William really wanted you to join the firm. After all, the company retained mention of your real father's name; perhaps William chose to keep it out of guilt. He owed it to Patrick to bring you up properly. The argument got out of hand. Did William push you, Aaron, like he pushed your father before you?"
"Yes," Aaron confessed.
"Your brother lied to you, Mary. Your mother didn't kill your father; it was Aaron who scared him to death."
Mary covered her mouth and became weak at the knees. She gasped and tears formed in her eyes, her hands searching beneath and behind her for a chair.
"I don't understand, Inspector. Please can you explain?" asked Eileen.
"We found a cloak with Aaron's DNA on it. He was the hooded figure that night. He was the one who scared William to death."
"I never intended to kill him; you have to understand that," said Aaron. "Mary told me who my real father was. She never was very good at keeping secrets… that is, except for the location of the tin box, which by rights is mine. I dressed in the cloak and wore a fake moustache. After all, I already have his blue eyes. I cut the power to the rooms, then I interrogated William, but the old fool just died. I didn't even touch him. I hid the cloak in the grandfather clock. After turning the power back on, Mother came out running, saying she'd heard Patrick's voice. I couldn't tell her the truth."
"You knew that it wouldn't be long before we came asking who the assailant was, and with your mother saying a ghost killed her husband, you felt you had no choice but to put your mother in the frame," said Kate.
"You bastard!" Mary shouted. "You let me believe my mother killed my father. As for the tin box, it was in the clock, you imbecile - it was right under your bloody nose. Is that all you wanted?" She ran from her chair and began pummelling her fists into Aaron's chest.
Eileen attempted to pull her brother and sister apart. "The pure wickedness of you both," she said, shocked.
Kinnell family house - outside
Emma perched on the car bonnet; she and Kate were watching Aaron and Mary being carted off by uniformed officers.
"So what's the plan?"
"I think it's time to be getting back." Kate checked her watch. "The roads should be pretty clear."
"To your dad's?"
"Yes, and then to Middleford and rotten old suburbia."
"Really? Will your dad mind you leaving on Christmas Day?" asked Emma.
"He'll be all right; he can spend it with his girlfriend," said Kate, smirking.
Emma suddenly clamped her hand over her mouth. "I wasn't supposed to mention that. Wait a minute… I didn't."
"Fiona's been flirting with him for years."
"How did you know? He tried so hard to keep it from you."
"Nothing gets past me; you should know that."
They smiled at each other.
When the car was packed, Kate threw the keys to Emma. "You're driving."
"There isn't much stuff here. Where's the rest of it?" asked Emma.
"In storage." They climbed into the car. "In Middleford."
"You can't be serious," Emma said, her mouth agape. "You made me think you were leaving forever."
"I thought I was." Kate clasped her hands on her lap as Emma released the handbrake. "Don't look so surprised. It's not like you placed a bet on me coming back," said Kate. There came a guilty silence from Emma's side of the car. "Did you?" Emma bit her bottom lip. "Oh, shit, you did."
"I'll take you out to dinner with the cash, Ash."
"You better bloody had do."
Before long they were on the motorway and heading for England. At one point the car bumped over a piece of car crash shrapnel and they muttered over whether to check the tyres or not.
"I could've pulled over onto the cold shoulder," said Emma, pointing behind her.
"Hard shoulder," corrected Kate. She smiled to herself and stared out of the window at the snow-covered fields. Without looking, she placed her hand on top of Emma's, which was resting on the gear lever.
A feeling of well-being washed over Emma and she looked away to conceal a smile. After all, it did pay to let Kate feel superior once in a while.
"Oh, and Emma?" Kate began.